Gender, Violence, and the Death Penalty

77 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2023

See all articles by Sandra Babcock

Sandra Babcock

Cornell University - Law School

Nathalie Greenfield

Center on Gender and Extreme Sentencing

Date Written: April 10, 2023


This article undertakes the first and only comprehensive analysis of gender-based violence (“GBV”) in the lives of all women currently on death row. We examine the prevalence of GBV and how it has shaped the lives and affected the criminal prosecutions of women facing execution. Our research reveals, for the first time, that almost every woman on death row in the United States has experienced GBV and that the great majority have experienced multiple incidents of GBV.

Further, our research shows that both in the United States and around the world, defense attorneys frequently fail to present evidence of GBV in women’s capital trials. When they do introduce such evidence, they fail to fully explain the nature of their clients’ victimization and the harm they have suffered as a result. Moreover, we show that prosecutors frequently rely on gendered tropes to discredit women’s accounts of violence such as childhood sexual abuse, rape, and intimate partner violence. Consequently, those who sentence women to die rarely comprehend the extensive trauma that the women have endured throughout their lives, and how that trauma relates to their legal and moral culpability.

Keywords: gender, women, GBV, death penalty, gender-based violence, capital punishment

Suggested Citation

Babcock, Sandra and Greenfield, Nathalie, Gender, Violence, and the Death Penalty (April 10, 2023). California Western International Law Journal, Vol. 53 (2023), Available at SSRN:

Sandra Babcock

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Nathalie Greenfield (Contact Author)

Center on Gender and Extreme Sentencing ( email )

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